Cannabis for Pets
THE TREMENDOUS HEALING PROPERTIES— AND THE LEGAL CONTROVERSY
The tremendous healing properties—and the legal controversy.
“Just over a year ago, Cooper, an eight-year-old German Short-haired Pointer, started sneezing blood. We discovered he had a tumour in his nose, and over time it started to eat through his nasal bone. Cooper was given a high dose of full-spectrum hemp extract— a product with multiple cannabinoids in it as well as terpenes and flavonoids that some theorize works better than CBD alone— and, within six weeks, his nasal bone returned to normal and his breathing improved. Today, he’s breathing easily, and his nasal bone looks normal.” Marijuana. It has become a daily topic on the news. Both Canada and the United States are taking steps down the path of decriminalization, with roughly two dozen states having legalized marijuana, and Canada expected to do so nationally in 2018. But, before we get into a discussion about the benefits of cannabis for companion animals, let’s take a step back. What is marijuana—and are we talking about getting our pets ‘high’? Marijuana comes from the cannabis sativa plant and has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years. Evidence of its use for medicinal purposes is as old as the written word. Chinese writings on the subject date as far back as 2000BC. Cannabis has been used in human medicine for the treatment of chronic pain, seizures, eye diseases, anxiety disorders, palliative comfort, and other ailments since the dawn of both agriculture and human medicine. Today, a growing body of evidence suggests that this beneficial plant could play a vital role in the treatment of animal health. And, no, we are not talking about getting our pets ‘high.’ Not at all. There are many hundreds of chemical compounds in cannabis and almost all have been shown to possess medicinal properties. The two primary components of cannabis that are most often discussed are Tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the widely-known component of marijuana that gets people ‘stoned,’ but when we talk about cannabinoids and animal medicine, we are focusing on CBD. CBD offers the medicinal benefits associated with marijuana, without the psychotropic side effects of THC. Hemp is also a cannabis plant, but one that contains very little THC. Both the purpose of the hemp plant and the way it is cultivated are different than marijuana. Hemp is used for
countless practical purposes, ranging from clothing to beauty products. But a key difference is this: hemp cannot get you or your pet high. Ever. Nevertheless, in the United States, hemp is illegal—an ironic fact given that the first flag sewn for the country ( by Betsy Ross) was made from, you guessed it: hemp. “Rhumba, a 15-year-old domestic shorthair cat, was showing progressive signs of pain and arthritis. A conventional approach to reducing inflammation and pain using Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like Tramadol or Metacam wasn’t an option, because this cat was also on prednisone for irritable bowel disease. Opioids also made him unsteady. After two weeks taking one drop of CBD oil twice a day, he was eating better and more interactive. Rhumba was back to jumping up on the counter again like he hadn’t done in a year.”— a veterinarian, who spoke on condition of anonymity Dr. Robert Silver is an expert on the subject of cannabinoids in animal medicine. He started practicing as a veterinarian in Colorado in 1982 but ceased in 2012, believing he could do more good for people and pets from a non-practicing pulpit. Since then, he has worked with industry to promote information about good health with cannabis and other nutraceuticals. He minces no words about his goal: “I’m on a mission to provide a safe space for the use of cannabis in veterinary medicine.” His book Medical Marijuana & Your Pet: The Definitive Guide is a ground-breaking work on a subject that is still taboo and currently an ethical conundrum for veterinarians. When Dr. Silver was in practice, he found that clients typically brought up the subject at the eleventh hour. “When nothing else works, people look for alternatives,” he says. “But in their desperation to help ailing pets, some were using their own ‘ weed,’ which is not appropriate for dogs and can lead to serious issues.” “Molly is a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever with severe hip dysplasia and her condition wasn’t responding to NSAIDS. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs helped for a while, then she went downhill. Molly’s pet parent asked me how to dose a hemp formulation based on its CBD content. I advised her on the correct dose, and within two weeks, Molly was running around like she hadn’t done in at least a year or two.”— a veterinarian, who spoke on condition of anonymity Dr. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. and author of the book Cannabis and CBD Science for Dogs maintains that CBDs' biggest value is in maintaining health, especially for middle-aged or senior pets. Cannabinoids prevent and combat common complaints of aging, including the diminution of mental capacities, anxiety, lack of appetite, and inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. But beyond that, cannabinoids may simply make pets feel better, improving their comfort, mood, activity, and appetite, so they feel and act like a younger version of themselves. When safely administered, evidence indicates that CBD can be of great benefit to both dogs and cats, but it’s critical to understand what’s safe and what’s not safe. Marijuana is a definite no. Dogs have an extremely high number of THC receptors and, as a result, their risk of toxicity from marijuana is significant. In cases of ingestion, dogs can develop static ataxia which exhibits as if the dog is intoxicated. In reality, this a serious medical condition that can cause death. There’s added risk if a dog ingests marijuana consumables that include chocolate or raisins— both of which can be harmful to them. CBD, on the other hand, is derived from hemp and contains less than 0.3% THC. An extensive review in 2011 looked for any evidence that CBD could have harmful effects. CBD was found to be nontoxic to pets, with very few, if any, side effects.
“Chance, a 20-year-old Bengal cat with chronic kidney disease, had osteoarthritis in his back and hips. He had difficulty making it to his litter box and was drinking a lot of water to compensate for his kidney issues. Initially, he was given a relatively low dose, but wouldn’t eat his food with the hemp in it, as his kidney problem had affected his appetite. He was given 2 mg of full spectrum hemp extract— a product with multiple cannabinoids in it as well as terpenes and flavonoids that some theorize works better than CBD alone— and started playing again with his other 20-year-old housemate.” — a veterinarian, who spoke on condition of anonymity Skeptical? Consider this. Both the animal and human endocannabinoid systems are the largest receptor systems in our bodies. “Marijuana and its various elements enter our bodies,” explains Dr. Silver, “and then basically mate with our body’s own cannabinoids.” We—and our pets—are literally engineered to benefit from cannabinoids. True, studies have been few and far between, but it’s hard to fund and publish studies on a plant with a decades-long stigma. In the United States today, even hemp and marijuana extracts with zero THC are considered an illegal Schedule 1 drug. Illegal substance or not, research continues. Cases of cancer tumours shrinking dramatically, hard-to- control seizures virtually halted, pain management success stories… it’s all out there in the form of anecdotal reports. With every new published report, we add credence to the discussion—and veterinarians gain further knowledge. Talk of forthcoming studies from the Universities of Colorado and Cornell are referenced routinely among vets with an interest in this subject. When it comes to the use of cannabis in veterinary medicine, one thing is clear: we have a long way to go. Even as lawmakers have taken steps to de- criminalize the product for human use, there has been no path laid for veterinarians to integrate cannabis into their treatment programs. It’s high time for that to change. Let’s not let this age- old approach that can help our pets pass us by. The animals we love deserve better.